Confronting Harvey’s fury, President Donald Trump made an all-out push Tuesday to show the federal government’s responsiveness to the massive storm that has lashed the Texas coast and caused catastrophic flooding.
Trump is visiting Texas to observe the federal government’s work to help the state recover after Harvey’s devastation. The storm, bringing torrents of rain and all but paralyzing Houston, marks the first time Trump has been tested by a major natural disaster.
The president was scheduled to receive briefings on the relief efforts in Corpus Christi, Texas, and later meet with state officials at the emergency operations center in Austin. The president was joined by first lady Melania Trump and other officials.
“Conditions haven’t cleared in Houston yet so probably not appropriate for him to go up there, probably not safe for him to go up there,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. “But I do think having your own eyes on the devastation that I have seen is important.”
Trump has appeared to relish the role of guiding the nation’s response to Harvey, which made landfall along the Gulf Coast on Friday night as a Category 4 storm near Corpus Christi, and moved northeast along the Texas coast over Houston. The storm has dumped more than 30 inches of rain in parts of Texas and authorities have rescued thousands of people left stranded by the storm.
“Recovery will be a long and difficult road and the federal government stands ready, willing and able to support that effort,” Trump said Monday.
Trump promised that Congress would act swiftly to approve a large recovery package to help the Gulf Coast region and said he was likely to return to Texas, and make a stop in Louisiana, during the weekend. But visiting the region only days after Harvey struck allowed Trump’s critics to question whether his presence would complicate efforts by emergency responders.
Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that Harvey’s relentless nature and size were “frustrating.” In a pair of interviews with radio stations serving Corpus Christi and San Antonio, Pence urged listeners to continue to follow instructions from local and state authorities, saying the storm remains dangerous and that life-threatening flooding will continue. He said he and his wife, Karen, would visit the region later this week.
Trump was likely to see a largely functioning city when he stops in Corpus Christi, a city of 325,000 where damage was minimal. Power has largely been restored, particularly in commercial areas. Some restaurants have reopened, but with limited menus, and stores are restocked. Hotels are jammed with evacuees from hard-hit areas to its northeast, including Houston.
Residents have been advised to boil drinking water because authorities cannot guarantee the integrity of the city’s lead and steel water system.
As Trump left Washington, he tweeted that he’d be OK leaving some senior federal jobs open. He didn’t say which ones.
Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham noted Tuesday on “Fox & Friends” that FEMA administrator Brock Long is without a deputy as he direct Trump’s response to Harvey.
From looking at photos of flooded Houston, she said: “We can conclude that a federal government does need staff. We see it acutely in need of staff in a situation like this.” She mentioned other vacant senior positions in the government as it faces down other potential crises, such as with North Korea.
Moments later, Trump used the Twitter handle for the show and Ingraham, tweeting: “@foxandfriends We are not looking to fill all of those positions. Don’t need many of them – reduce size of government. @IngrahamAngle.”
Hurricanes have often presented American presidents with the potential for political advantage — and in some cases, peril.
President George W. Bush struggled to recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when he declared that then-Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown was doing “a heckuva job,” comments that appeared to clash with reality once the full scope of the devastation became clear.
Images of Bush looking down at the flooding in New Orleans from Air Force One also gave the impression that he was detached from the horrific conditions on the ground.
In 2012, President Barack Obama oversaw the government’s response to Superstorm Sandy along the East Coast just before the 2012 election. Obama’s trip to the hard-hit New Jersey coast allowed him to join with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who lavished praise on the president, a helpful boost in Obama’s partisan clash against Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.
Trump has had some practice in the art of the natural disaster visit. In August 2016, Trump and Mike Pence, his campaign running mate, traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to survey flood damage that had killed more than a dozen people and displaced thousands more. Trump was greeted warmly as he toured the damage and consoled residents with hugs.
The typically brash and spotlight-seeking billionaire offered restrained remarks as he viewed the waterlogged wreckage and expressed solidarity with residents struggling to clean up.
“Nobody understands how bad it is,” Trump told reporters at the time after briefly helping unload a truck of supplies. “It’s really incredible, so I’m just here to help.”